These statutes generally provide an expedited mechanism for an individual who is sued for petitioning the government or exercising her free speech rights to dismiss a retaliatory suit and obtain damages or attorneys' fees. Increasingly, individuals are using Anti-SLAPP statutes in the context of competition claims that employers bring.
I previously have discussed special problems that arise in the context of so-called "whistleblowers" and the intersection of trade secret law. Although this may provide a compelling factual scenario for the application of Anti-SLAPP motions, individual defendants generally have met with a fair amount of resistance in their efforts to use this statutory mechanism to cut off trade secrets claims.
By and large, Anti-SLAPP laws require a petitioning defendant (assumed here to be an ex-employee sued on some competition-related claim) to show that his or her activity involved a matter of public concern or public interest. For instance, the Court of Appeals of Washington recently found that an ex-employee's post to a job board that warned potential employees about his ex-employer's security practices did not involve a matter of sufficient public concern to invoke that state's Anti-SLAPP law. Alaska Structures, Inc. v. Hedlund, 2014 Wash. App. LEXIS 933 (Wash. Ct. App. Apr. 21, 2014).
Generally speaking, courts seem adverse to applying Anti-SLAPP laws to matters that involve private contract disputes, such as a claim for breach of a non-disclosure agreement. This is not to say fact patterns that overlap with a competition claim can't arise, but the employee's conduct generally must implicate some or all of the following:
- The matter must be of interest of concern to a substantial number of people. An example would be a disclosure about an issue concerning consumer product safety;
- There must be a close tie between the employee's statements, disclosures, or conduct and the public interest itself. For instance, an employee's disclosure of material must be directed towards the public good and not purely for some personal gain.
- The individual's conduct should not be mere ammunition-gathering in a fight with her ex-employer. There must be some objective indication the employee is pursuing a matter of larger public concern.